Raising the Next Einstein? How to Know if You're Living with a Genius
By Bruce R. Gibbs
Every father believes his child is the smartest in the world. As a father you are amazed at what your little one can do at one month, let alone what she can accomplish at age seven. When you see your child breeze through a challenging computer game or complete a difficult puzzle in a few minutes, you begin to ask yourself, do I have a genius child? Well, maybe you do.
The terms genius and gifted are commonly used to describe children with above average intelligence. Marie Capurro, M.Ed., is the Executive Director for the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a nonprofit organization that works with gifted children. “Gifted children, begin to think on a more abstract level at a much earlier stage than their peers. They think very differently than other young people like them and it usually comes in the form of being a little more abstract or making connections in a way other kids aren’t.”
Richard Olenchak, Ph.D., President of the National Association for Gifted Children, says that if you want to know whether your child is gifted, just watch and pay attention. “Find out what your kids like to do,” he says. “Watch what kinds of things your children enjoy doing and what they are drawn to; this can clue you in on what area(s) they may be advanced.”
“Children can be gifted in more than just academics,” says Dr. Olenchak. “Many children are gifted in music, sports, art, etc. Many times a person is gifted in just one or two areas. A select few are gifted in a variety of subjects.” In fact, according to the 2000 US Census, the profoundly gifted—IQ’s with 160 and above—appear at a rate of only 1 in every 10,000 people. Capurro also agrees that a gifted child may not be gifted in all subjects. “A child can be gifted in mathematics but may be reading at the same level as his or her peers.”
So, what do you do if you are raising a gifted child? Both Capurro and Olenchak recommend encouragement. “The greatest thing you can do with a gifted child is follow their lead,” urges Capurro. “I like to use the term ‘marinate them in experiences.’ If you have a child who loves to read, be very supportive of that. Take them to the library or provide them with access to things they enjoy. Read to them. Give them as much opportunity as possible to continue to grow and learn.”
If you believe your child is gifted, what should your first step be? According to Capurro, it depends on the age of the child. “If the child is very young, say from birth to age 4, and that child is asking a lot of questions, they’re very verbal, they are solving a lot of complex puzzles and demonstrating a lot of advance abilities, you want to nurture that. Give them opportunities to help them to develop their talent. Once that child is about 4, 5, or 6 and is entering a preschool or schooling situation, a parent should have a formal evaluation done.” This formal evaluation comes in the form of testing and it includes a combination of an IQ test and achievement testing. “IQ testing alone is not very helpful when trying to place a child in school,” says Capurro. “It is much more convincing if you inform a teacher that your child has had a comprehensive assessment. Then you can furnish details such as: my child’s IQ is 130; here’s some achievement testing that was done and she is demonstrating abilities in mathematics at a high school level (even though they are in elementary school) or my son can read at a tenth grade level.”
Dr. Olenchak believes that testing has its place but can be overrated. “IQ tests may not reveal all gifted students because not all students do well on IQ tests,” he states. “Besides if a student is gifted in, say music, what would be the point of an IQ test in that situation?”
Capurro also has warnings for testing. “IQ and achievement testing should only be done to determine some sort of educational placement. Very young children shouldn’t be tested because they’re very elastic and their abilities may measure very differently from month to month.”
Capurro also warns against testing too late. “Most school districts do not conduct comprehensive assessments until the child is 8 or 9 years old, which is typically third or fourth grade. By this time the gifted child may have hidden their abilities so they will appear like their peers and many teachers may not pick up on it. This can be especially true for girls.”
Both Dr. Olenchak and Capurro agree that parents are the best advocates for their children. “It’s the parent’s job to make sure that their child is getting the necessary skills and attention at school,” says Dr. Olenchak. “Parents have to be very, very, proactive,” adds Capurro “and perpetually seeking out the best learning environment or pulling in outside resources when the schooling environment may not be a good match.”
Many times with gifted kids, those around them focus only on building and strengthening only their advanced skill or skills. Dr. Olenchak warns that parents should not overlook the overall well being of the child. “Parents need to make sure that a child’s emotional and social needs are also met, not just the areas where they are advanced. It’s important for a child to not feel abandoned or alone. This is where peer groups can help. Parent should make sure their gifted child has a peer group where they feel safe and accepted.”
So, if you have a gifted child, don’t sweat it. Do your best to help your child to learn and remember the encouragement. As you teach and encourage, you may, in the process, learn something of what they are thinking. And, if you are raising a future Nobel Prize laureate, a premier concert pianist, or a future CEO, remember that whatever their abilities, the best encouragement you can give is your love.
@Copyright, REAL DAD Magazine